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Zinn opens chapter with the recognition that “war and jingoism might postpone, but might not fully suppress, the class anger that originated from the truths of normal life”. Regardless of the quick interlude that temporarily stopped class dispute, the problems in your home had actually never ever been dealt with and resurfaced with a revenge. More and more authors were writing from a Socialist mindset: Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906, as a commentary on Chicago’s meatpacking market. In writing the book, Sinclair was influenced by authors like Jack London, a Socialist who had actually grown up in hardship in the Bay Area.
London publish The Iron Heel in 1906, warning Americans about fascism and indicts the capitalist system” In the face of the realities that modern man lives more wretchedly than the cave-man, which his producing power is a thousand times greater than that of the cave-man, no other conclusion is possible than that the capitalist class has actually mismanaged criminally and selfishly mismanaged”.
Even a banished Henry James condemned the U.S. when he went to in 1904. The corrupt actions of the American federal government and company elite were on the lips of activists, authors, and artists around the world Socialism could not help but spread out. One of the most notable labor incidents in this era took place at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. New York had more than 500 garment factories, primarily staffed by ladies, and the conditions in all were similarly as terrible. In the winter season of 1909, females at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co.
arranged a strike, they were uncertain that much more than 3,000 women would end up with the cold weather condition and not all the factories participating, however more than 20,000 appeared. The just recently organized Ladies Garment Employee Union was growing by the thousand every day. The strike went on through the winter season, in spite of authorities, arrests, scabs and prison.” In more than three hundred shops, workers won their demands.
Women now became officials in the union. However, the conditions of the factories themselves did not change all that much, and on the afternoon of March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the TS Company on the 8th-9th floors too high for fire ladders to reach. The factory doors had also been locked to manage workers, which was against the law. In fact, TS Co. broke several safety codes, ultimately causing their female employees to be trapped and burned to death”146 Triangle workers, mostly women, were burned or crushed to death”. These were not the only tragedies” in the year 1904, 27,000 workers were killed on the job”. Millions of workers toiled in dangerous conditions to fatten bank accounts of the wealthy. Zinn keeps the starting numbers coming: “In 1914, 35,000 workers were killed in industrial accidents and 700,000 injured. The women’s movement of the time was an interesting one, with women often divided between suffragism and socialism.
Many women were skeptical of the suffrage movement and spoke out on other issues. Margaret Sanger was one of the first women to speak out about birth control” No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose conscientiously whether she will or will not be a mother”. Emma Goldman believed the suffrage movement to be a waste of time, noting, “Every inch of ground has gained has been through constant fight, a ceaseless struggle for self-assertion, and not through suffrage. Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and through her only that, and not the ballot, will set women free”. Helen Keller also believed in this “struggle outside the ballot box” these women wanted something more immediate and direct than the vote.
This is an issue with I am constantly torn. There is something so simple and almost beautiful in a people voting and deciding as a group can’t we just vote our way to utopia? However, when you think about the politics behind what even ends up on a ballot, you can start to feel powerless, and the vote meaningless; I understand why these women would want to fight for something greater. Zinn touches on demands and protests to end child labor, before moving on to the deteriorating situation for blacks across the nation, or what he calls “the low point”. Blacks were being beaten, lynched, murdered and the government sat by and did nothing. But what surprised me is that “the Socialist party did not go much out of its way to act on the race question” either. One member wrote about Debs, “he always insisted on absolute equality. But he failed to accept the view that special measures were sometimes needed to achieve this equality”. Ah, the early discussion of affirmative action and the thought that after century of oppression, laws would just make things equal.
Blacks began to use this momentous period to organize as well, and formed the National afro-American Council, as well as the National Association for Colored Women. W.E.B. DuBois had just written The Souls of Black Folk and called black leaders together for a conference near Niagara Falls–the start of the “Niagara Movement.” These leaders called for a much more radical and revolutionary approach, attacking the moderate ideas of men like Booker T. Washington. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed after a race riot in Springfield, IL in 1910, but whites dominated the leadership. The NAACP focused mainly on legal action and education, but DuBois, one of the officers, championed the notion that “Persistent manly agitation is the way to liberty”. It’s interesting to note that this was the start of the nation’s “Progressive Period” a time when new amendments and laws were being passed all the time.
However, these laws didn’t necessarily benefit blacks, women, labor organizations, or Socialists; they were more a response to the shifting social tide what doesn’t bend, breaks, and right? As Zinn notes, “it was a reluctant reform, aimed at quieting the popular risings, not making fundamental changes”. In addition to numerous food, drug, and safety regulations, the nation witnessed the 16th Amendment graduated income tax and 17th Amendment election of Senators by popular vote. However, these reforms were less about actual social change and more a necessary response to growing social agitation in order to create “a middle-class cushion for class conflict…an attempt by the system to adjust to changing conditions in order to achieve more stability. Zinn quotes Harold Faulkner: ‘Through rules with impersonal sanctions, it sought continuity and predictability in a world of endless change. It assigned far greater power to government…and it encouraged the centralization of authority”.
What happened was the emergence of “political capitalism,” in which “businessmen took firmer control of the political system because the private economy was not efficient enough to forestall protest from below. The businessmen were not opposed to the new reforms; they initiated them, pushed them, to stabilize the capitalist system in a time of uncertainty and trouble”. No longer did we have a government throwing the occasional big bone to business, but a government that was bent over a chair, pants around the ankles with big business. Zinn closes his chapter focusing on the idea that “much of the intense activity for Progressive reform was intended to head off. ’The Rising Tide of Socialism” and zooms in on one key event: the Colorado Coal Strike which began in September 1910 and culminated in the Ludlow Massacre of April 1914. 11,000 miners worked for the Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation.
When a union organizer was murdered, the workers began to strike in protest of low pay, dangerous conditions and “feudal domination.” Immediately, the miners were evicted from their shacks and forced to live in tent colonies in nearby hills. Gunmen hired by Rockefeller interests raided the colonies and were eventually joined by the National Guard. The strikers held out through the winter of 1913-1914 and it became clear that only drastic measures would break the strike. So, on April 20th a machine gun attack was opened on the tents, and the strikers fired back. The Guards set fire to the tents, burning some people to death. Eventually federal troops were brought in to restore order, but only after 26 men, women, and children had lost their lives. It was clear once again that unrest at home would not stop, so the government, once again, looked outside its borders for a distraction.
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